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Southern Marsh and Vecchiano Farm

Since the end of the thirteenth century, during a more stable and controlled phase of the evolution of rivers in the area between the Serchio and the lake of Massaciuccoli, the division that will characterize the area until the immediate postwar period is stressed: on the one hand the swamp area and on the other hand a strip along the Serchio, about 3 km wide, in which, already during the age of the city states, a process of peopling starts that will lead to building the communities of Avane, Vecchiano, Nodica and Malaventre. During the city-states period interventions were carried out to limit the spread of the marsh by the excavation of some ditches that made the area navigable; this encouraged the practice of hunting and fishing which, since then, will represent the main economic activities in the area.
In the 16th century, the Medici property began to settle in the swamp, initially taking possession of several parcels of private individuals and the communities of Vecchiano and S. Frediano and later with the construction of the farm. The drainage operations planned in 1600, useful for a further expansion of the cultivable area, required such prohibitive prices that in 1650 it was decided to sell part of the swamp to the Dutch engineer Van deer Street. The reclamations then resumed under the direction of the new owner, who, at a cost of 40,000 scudi ordered the excavation of canals and installation of wind motors. After the death of the Dutchman, the Marsh of Nodica took the name of Val di Stratten and the lands returned to the Grand Duke who tried the paddy cultivation. In the 18th century, the plain soil of the farm, the smallest property in the Grand Duchy of Pisa, was estimated to be about 900 hectares wide of which at least 670 hectares of marshland: nonetheless, due to the variety of environments included within its boundaries, the farm maintained a certain productivity. The farmhouse bordered northward the Lake of Massaciuccoli and the boundary line of the state of Lucca separating the Pisan marsh from the marsh of Lucca; eastward it stretched from the hills of Avane (Poggio di Legnaio, Poggio di Stravia, Poggio delle Grepole, Monte Bastione) nearly up to the Serchio; hence the border went up along the Barra ditch and, near Via di Legnaia and the Ponte delle Morelle, the property extended up to the Fossa Nuova, where the south border stood. The Fossa Magna, finally, separated the farm from the swampy area of ​​the Estate of Migliarino.
The marsh (divided in Padule Grande or di Val di Stratten, Padule delle Prese and Padule del Bellino) consisted mostly of marsh vegetation and was crossed by numerous ditches and canals practicable through small boats. In the area there were no houses nor huts, and it was crossed by a limited number of roads, practicable only during the summer season, which entered the swamp: among them, the Via del Capannone which reached the Fossa Reale. Within the land belonging to the farm, did not develop many homes and the parceling of land into holdings led, in 1700, to an allocation of only six farms: the farmer resided in fact in Vecchiano and the sharecroppers in the area of ​​the Serchio, which at that time was considered more healthy. In the maps of the century, it is possible to identify a number of farmhouses built near the Capannone - built in 1600 between the Traversagna and the Marsh and used for rice cultivation and drying of maize - and in hilly areas, especially in the farm of Monte Legnaio. This area, and the remaining hill lands, were made of olive groves and vineyards and represented the main economic income for local people: the oil was sold to other grand-ducal farms and the wine was purchased in large quantities thanks to its well-known anti-malaria properties. Towards the end of the century, during the period of the granting of tenure under a lease, the Grand Duke gave the farm entirely to the Dukes Salviati (1784). The creation of a large production unit that stretched from the sea to the hills of Avane along with the desire of Salviati to proceed with drainage operations, gave rise, during 1800, to a new series of projects, some of which followed those of the eighteenth century: the creation of outlet channels of the Lake of Bientina and its subsequent draining (through an outlet channel which, thanks to a barrel on the Arno river, flowed into the southern plain of Pisa). The projected works were not completed and the environmental conditions of the area did not change substantially up to 1928 when the area was incorporated into the first category reclamation districts, followed in 1931, by the construction of the Reclamation Consortium and the beginning of mechanical reclamation. Overall, the reclamation involved about 550 hectares in the sub-basin of Massaciuccoli and about 1100 hectares in the brushwood of Vecchiano.
Rice irrigation
(foto di Archivio Parco)
Reclamation area, Bientina marsh
(foto di Archivio Parco)